In a town such as St. Andrews, full of Americans, IR students and American IR students, conversations about post-9/11 US foreign policy are inevitable. The conclusions of such conversations often result in the attribution of Americans, and, thereby, their foreign policy decisions, as ignorant, arrogant, and unnecessarily aggressive. In reference to these adjectives, the distinction between “Americans” and “American foreign policy,” becomes very important. It would be an insult to one’s intellect if they were unable to distinguish between the two, but, in the case of an organisation such as, ‘Dont Walk,’ the detachment, disillusionment, and disconnect often associated with American foreign policy becomes manifest.
When a proverbial tree falls within the boundaries of the world’s largest economic and military power, each and every nation feels its reverberations. In contrast to previous terrorist attacks on Western soil, such as, the 1985 Air India or 1988 Lockerbie bombings, the events of 9/11 are both discordant and distinctive. The inevitable emotional response of the greater population was not contained domestically, but was instead translated to a strong national desire for retaliation, which eroded the global outpouring of empathy and goodwill for the United States.
The collective grief of a nation was turned to wrath by the use of war rhetoric to reinforce a romanticized vision of American patriotism and exceptionalism, while simultaneously using these emotions to justify military action. In George W. Bush’s first address to the nation following the attacks on New York and Washington, he remarked, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Twelve years later, this represents the true travesty surrounding the collapse of the Twin Towers: the emotionally motivated shift to an Americentric and unilateral view of terrorism has established an internal disconnect between American foreign policy goals and global reality which they so powerfully impact.
As such, when a charity fashion show in St. Andrews refers to itself as a response to the events of 9/11, it parallels the detachment from reality observed in post-9/11 foreign policy decisions. If an organisation is to utilise the events of 9/11 as a fundamental aspect of their philosophy, there must be a cohesive and collective comprehension of the scope of the event, and appropriateness to their response. Dont Walk fails spectacularly and arrogantly at both.
9/11 is an event which transcends the traditional notion of ‘terrorism;’ to focus on 9/11 as if the tragedy were monopolized by the US, is to denigrate the hundreds and thousands of dead American soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and Afghani citizens who have lost their lives as a consequence. The profundity of 9/11 is the length of its duration and long-lasting effect on peoples around the world: to mark such an event with a charity fashion show demonstrates the two differing perspectives on the issue. In the United States, 9/11 is an event of the past, with many, including the current President, concluding that the military and political reactions to the event have subsided and are no longer ‘present.’ Of course, the very use of the phrase, “post-9/11,” indicates a vision of the event as it occurred in the United States. Compare the reconstruction of the WTC site in NYC, to the overwhelming deconstruction of the economies and infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan alone. While the United States may refer to a ‘post-9/11 decade,’ the soldiers situated in the aforementioned nations, as well as their respective civilians, are still very much immersed in the events of 9/11. It is these people and the victims of the tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that deserve help and attention, but strangely, they will receive neither from Dont Walk.
The ludicrous assertion, claimed by Dont Walk, that it enables young people to “celebrate the beauty of life, creativity, and positivity; irrespective of the violence that so often prevails,” only applies to those who are not currently facing suicide bombings, drone strikes, and the aftershocks of war. This is the core of the distortion in the examination of the effects of 9/11: the very association of Dont Walk as a response to 9/11 completely reduces the devastations faced by hundreds and thousands of people, including the families of victims of 9/11, to a single ‘violent’ event.
Furthermore, the image of an event which prides itself as both exclusive and elitist, strengthens the inherent disconnect between the organisation and its cause. This is an event where individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 gather to substantially increase their alcohol intake while simultaneously galloping around in clothing whose value could easily feed hundreds of children in Afghanistan, or could contribute to the many actual 9/11 charities. Sadly, it will do neither. And for all the talk of raising awareness for their cause (the Non-Violence Project, a worthy cause, but unrelated to 9/11), one questions how serious an invite-only event is about engaging with the community.
Moreover, few invited guests at this event would have been cognisant of the fact that it is supposed to serve as a response to 9/11, and with the exception of a fleeting projection of George W. Bush and the smoke over New York during a slideshow, there was no mention of this founding philosophy. Where was a moment of silence? Where was a tribute? Then again, the organization must surely be aware of the ongoing absurdity of linking a fashion show and 9/11 in name only, and are seemingly happy to downplay it when it is inconvenient. They could truly not attempt any more persistently to dishonour and degrade the severity and influence of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
If this organization is to continue to utilise 9/11 as the fundamental basis for their philosophy, perhaps the chosen causes can reflect direct action to victims of families of 9/11, and those who have suffered from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither the first Dont Walk or this last one chose charities connected to the victims of 9/11, doubling down on their disconnect and hypocrisy.
Dont Walk argues that their ‘instruments of choice,’ which are ‘fashion, creativity, and self-expression,’ are their preferred mode of raising awareness. If only a response to a tragedy such as 9/11 could be so simple. Perhaps this is what the many citizens of the world affected by 9/11 are lacking: fashion, creativity, and self-expression. Unfortunately, unless these victims of 9/11 and the post-9/11 era happen to be well connected St Andreans, Dont Walk won’t give them a dime, much less a ticket.